The Ragged Edges Of Torn Photographs
The fat woman behind the counter of the corner liquor store reflected on her
life as the artificial sun began to dim outside. For twenty years she had run
this corner store. Anything you could get on Earth, and a few things you
couldn't, all at a reasonable price.
The metal bell over the door rang as someone pushed their way in. A refined
man, nattily attired in a grey suit cleared his throat and asked for a bottle
of Rigellian Kiral, 2162. She passed it to him and bagged it without even
looking at him and took his money with her other hand, sliding it into the
register with the rest. The door clinked again as the man walked out.
She lit a cigarette. Bad habit, but she figured, running a liquor store, she
was already condemned. In for a penny, in for a pound. The tip glowed as she
took a long drag, the smoke filling her lungs and her head went not
She let her mind drift. Another couple hours, long enough for the party people
to maybe stop by and pick up some extra money before she retired to her
apartment upstairs for the night.
The doorbell clinked again. But the man who approached the counter said
nothing. He was even better dressed than the man before, attired in a suit so
white it seemed to shine among the urban grit that characterized her little
corner of Kuran Colony.
His green eyes shone despite being shadowed by long chestnut bangs. His hair
trailed lazily behind him like a devil's tail.
"Hello Lil," was all he said. His voice was smooth, seductive,
despite the roughness at the bottom. He opened his jacket and produced his own
pack of cigarettes, extracting one of his own. He lit it with a very practiced
motion and looked at her.
Her face was a mask of shock. "Kienan . . ."
Kienan Ademetria had met Jayla Kyren almost by accident. The man he had been
trailing that night was attending a party for a noted artist who had been
touring the Outer Colonies with his work. He watched his mark from across the
"Excuse me," a young attractive blond woman said, moving elegantly
past him, her languid figure looking like a shadow in her tight black party
dress. She looked away from him, preparing to move on, then she stopped,
regarding him curiously.
"Nice hair," she said, gesturing to his braid.
"Thank you," Kienan said quietly.
"I dont think I've seen you here before," she said, her eyes looking
over his face for any glimmer of recognition.
"No," Kienan said, discreetly looking past her. "This is my
first time. But if I had been, I certainly would have remembered you,
"Ms." Jayla corrected. "Jayla Kyren."
Kienan took her hand and kissed it. His eyes stayed locked on his mark. His
conversation was ending and he seemed to be moving toward an exit. "Kienan
Ademetria. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Ademetria," Jayla said. "No, I've never heard the name. And
I've been at enough of these to know everyone." She looked over at someone
on the other side of the room who was trying to gain her attention. She looked
from Kienan back to them and frowned.
"Look," she said, disappointment clouding her face. "I'm sorry,
but my friends over there seem to wanna spend some time with me." She
reached into her purse and pulled out a small thin card. "But give me a
call some time, huh? You've gotta tell me how you keep all that hair so
clean." She gave him one last, bright smile from over her shoulder as she
turned to leave.
Kienan smiled, despite himself and watched her leave. As he did so he began
discreetly moving towards the same exit that his target was going for. He
chased him like a shadow through various antechambers to the men's restroom.
Kienan, several yards down the hall, bent down to see to his shoe.
He turned the heels to the side, withdrawing small pieces of metal from them before
turning them back. He snapped them together as he rose up from the floor,
reaching into his cigarette case. Inside he found two more pieces of metal,
which he very quickly snapped together as he entered the bathroom.
Kienan discreetly looked under the stalls. He had long ago chosen this place
and had made sure to take notice of the man's shoes in advance. This man had
double-crossed his employers by shipping their merchandise to a very dangerous
sector of space.
And that demanded an example be made of him. There was someone already within
his shipping company who was handpicked by his employers to be more . .
.amenable to their directives.
Kienan waited for two men to leave and then locked the restroom door and
knocked on the man's stall.
"Excuse me," he said, disguising his voice. "Leland Carver? I
was told to bring a message to you."
"Yes?" Carver said uncomfortably. Obviously, he was having trouble.
Kienan kicked the stall door open with such force that Carver's head snapped
back against the blue-tiled wall, his broken nose issuing blood like a
sanguinary waterfall. Kienan waited until Carver was looking at him and then
used the device he had assembled.
"No one goes against the Blue Dragons," he said.
Carver's chest jumped three times as the device injected three spikes into his
chest. Kienan shut the door to the stall and walked to the sink. He turned on
the faucet and dropped the injector inside, fishing a capsule out of the inside
of his shirt cuff.
Inside the stall, Carver was dead. The chemical coating on the spikes had
turned his blood into hard resin.
He cracked it over the device, and in a froth, the device was consumed. He shut
off the faucet, straightened his jacket, unlocked the bathroom door and walked
out, fishing Jayla's card from his pocket as he walked out of the building.
Tomorrow, he thought. I think I'll call her.
The shapely woman hovered over Gao Shu much like others had before him. Those
times, of course, had been because had wanted it that way.
This time, it had more to do with him being forced.
Gao had a whip wrapped tightly around his neck and a gun pressed at his temple.
The blue-haired woman holding both these implements looked down on him with a
combination of disdain and unrestrained rage.
"Where are they?" She demanded.
"I don't . . .I don't know what youre talking about . . .!" Gao
said, his head suddenly feeling.
"The hell you don't!" The woman screamed in his ear. "You know
what I want. Jayla's things! I know that after she killed herself you had them
sent away. I want to know where they are."
"Don't . . .know," Gao said, sweat staining his bald head. His
fat-fingered hands clenched and unclenched as he fought to keep breathing,
"All right, god damn it," the woman said. She moved the pistol away
from his head and shot him in the shoulder. Then she replaced the pistol at the
back of his head.
Gao started to cry despite himself.
"Are you going to tell me?"
He nodded. The whip around his neck slacked up a bit. He gasped and fought the
urge to throw up from the pain.
"I . . .had them . . .sent . . .to a . . .depository on the western side
colony," Gao gasped. "Same place I'm instructed to . . . send the cut
of my take to the Blue Dragons. They were requested."
"Good," the woman said, unwrapping the whip from his neck. "I
knew even a fat gutter pimp like you was good for something, Gao. But I'm going
to kill you now, anyway."
Gao tried to rise, but his shoulder wound kept him from doing so. The woman
quietly raised the gun.
"Why?" The woman repeated, drawing the hammer back. "Because I
loved Jayla, even when you were whoring her out to every single degenerate in
the colony. She had such love, and you did everything to kill it."
"Is that . . .the only . . .reason, Sauvage?"
"No," Sauvage said, shooting him. The loud report of the gunshot
seemed to suck the rest of the sound out of the room. "It's also because
I'm not the only person looking for them."
"Rough night?" Sauvage said, gently dabbing the grime from Jayla's
face. They sat on Sauvage's bed, Jayla had tucked her knees in close to her
chin. She nodded curtly in answer.
"Well," Sauvage said, feigning cheerfulness. "I'd like to tell
you it gets better, but I'm not sure it ever does. Here, let me get the other
side of your face."
Jayla slowly turned as Sauvage dabbed around the large bruise on her cheek.
Jayla winced a little as she did so.
"Well," Sauvage said. "I knew there was a pretty lady underneath
there." She searched Jayla's face for a sign of a smile, but there was none
to be found.
"You look way too classy for this place, you know," Sauvage said.
"Too young. How'd you end up as one of Gao's girls?"
Jayla's eyes closed tightly as she started to cry. Sauvage gently wrapped her
arms around her as Jayla cried into her chest, her arms beginning to open wider
and embrace her.
"Shhhh," Sauvage said gently. "It's all right. You dont have to
tell me right now. Just let it all out."
Jayla's body was wracked with the force of her sobs, as though her demons were
invisibly thrashing her body. Sauvage looked down at her, at the bruises on her
back. It didn't seem right that someone so beautiful should have to suffer this
Jayla made her way up Sauvage's body, slowly reaching out to touch her face.
Jayla's blue eyes met with Sauvage's sad grey eyes as she drew her close and
kissed her, deep and passionately. Sauvage didnt resist a bit, and spent the
rest of the night loving her, perhaps as she had never been loved.
"You called me up just because you need a place to stay?" Lil asked
incredulously. She poured another two shots from the bottle. Kienan took his
and slammed it back immediately. Lil had often been fascinated by his ability
to power back any kind of liquor, even something as strong as Siridar
"Yeah, for a couple days," Kienan said. "One of my informants
told me they'd found some of Jayla's things. Of course, that was two days
before he ended up dead in one of the recycling canals."
"You didnt bring your ladies?" Lil asked.
Kienan shook his head. "I wanted to handle this on my own. Besides, if
someone's killing my informants, that's two more targets. One on one is how I
intend to deal with this."
Lil poured two more as Kienan lit a cigarette. "I cant believe youre
still chasing that girl. She's dead Kienan. She's been dead for two years now.
Let her go."
Kienan exhaled his cigarette smoke and took another shot. "Not as simple
"There's more you arent telling me," Lil said, pouring two more
shots. "Figures. You know, that's why you drove her away in the first
place Kienan. You never told her the whole truth. You never tell anyone the
whole damn truth. And then you act surprised when they fall through the holes
trying to get to you."
Kienan took another shot. "Keep going. It's not every day I get
psychoanalyzed by a liquor store owner."
"Say what you want," Lil said, drinking hers. She wiped her mouth as
she set the shot glass back down. "But it's a pattern with you. You drove
Silhouette away with that same--"
"Leave her out of this," Kienan interjected, stubbing out his
"Jayla was the same way," Lil said, looking dead at him. "You
never let her all the way in, and after awhile she just got lost in that limbo.
And it good as killed her."
Kienan looked at her, and poured two more shots and drank both.
"I always imagined you as a professional jewel thief," Jayla said,
relaxing in Kienan's arms. Her pale naked skin made for an odd contrast against
his deep golden tan. They were in her apartment, in truth, they were never
anywhere else. They were sitting on her bed, wrapped in the sheets, in the
aftermath of lovemaking.
"You have a very romantic view of my profession," Kienan said.
"Well, you never tell me anything," Jayla said, looking up at him.
"I seem to be spending more and more of my time waiting up for you,
waiting for you to call. I don't know anything about you, except for one
Kienan lit a cigarette. "What's that?"
"I love you," Jayla said. "You make me feel like a person."
"I love you too, Jayla," Kienan said, taking a drag on his cigarette.
Jayla was quiet for a few minutes.
"Youre not married are you?"
Kienan laughed. "No."
Jayla sighed. "Well, neither am I. That's why my mom sent me out here. She
said I needed to find a husband of quality. I wonder how she'd feel if she knew
I'd picked you?"
Kienan took a thoughtful drag on his cigarette. He had thought about telling
her about what he really did, but every time he did, his rationalizing
mechanisms kicked in. He had to protect her, after all. If she knew, it could
make her a target for his enemies.
And he didnt want to risk her life any more than he was already by being with
Jayla poked him in the ribs. "You OK?"
Kienan nodded. "Just thinking."
"About us," Kienan said, dragging on his cigarette. "About what
I want for us."
Jayla moved around to look at him. "I just want us to be together."
"So do I," Kienan said. "What if I were to tell you I would
leave it all behind?"
Jayla looked at him, caressing her face. "For me?"
"I wouldn't know what to say," Jayla said. "Except that it's
what I've always wanted."
Jayla pulled him closer, stubbing out his cigarette and kissing him deeply and
passionately. Kienan returned the kiss and began caressing her, feeling her
desire arcing off of her body. As the daylight gave way to night, Kienan made
love to Jayla, strengthening his desire to change his life.
The next day, Lil walked downstairs and went about opening the store. It was
only a few seconds later that the doorbell jingled. Lil looked at the
statuesque woman who walked in the door.
"Youre my first customer," Lil said, covering her surprise.
"What can I get you?"
"I'm not here for anything," she said, brushing her blue hair out of
her face. As she moved closer to the counter, Lil caught sight of the pistol
holstered at her side and her hands quietly reached for the sawed-off shotgun
she kept under the counter.
The woman whipped her pistol out and leveled it at Lil's face. Lil froze like a
deer caught in headlights.
The woman tossed a photograph on the counter. Lil looked down at it. It was a
picture of Kienan and Jayla, that much she knew. From the looks of it, the
woman had tried to tear it in half and had only succeeded a little. A long
cruel tear split the image of Kienan and Jayla.
"I know he's here," she said, the gun still on her. "Tell him
tonight, at Gao's old place. Tell him if he wants 'em he's gonna have to take
'em from me."
"Tonight," she said. "Nine O'clock."
Lil looked at her, her face relaxing. "Can I at least give him a
"He knows who I am." The woman smiled, told Lil her name and backed
out of the door.
The water in the bathtub made a peculiarly hollow noise as it echoed through
the small flat. Sauvage opened the door and walked through smiling. She hated
her new job, but it beat whoring, and it allowed her to spend her nights with
Jayla. It was hard to believe the same sad-eyed woman who she had helped
through a night of rough sex six months ago could be so willing to love her.
She had tried very hard not to question that too much, because she was afraid
it could all be taken away so quickly. Life had a way of doing that to her, she
"Jayla," she called, closing the door behind her. "Get dressed!
We're going out someplace special tonight! Your number one girl made a hell of
a lot of money today!"
She listened for a reply for five minutes. Finding none, she called again.
Nothing. Just a slight noise.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Sauvage stopped for a second. Why would Jayla be taking a bath this early?
She made her way into the bathroom. As she swung the door open she glanced at
the scene before her, she shut her eyes, as if forcing her mind to show her
something, anything, but what it had seen.
But despite her will and the hot tears, which were even now being squeezed from
her eyes, the tap continued to drip.
Slowly, Sauvage opened her eyes again.
Jayla sat in the bathtub, the water perfectly still. She had obviously been in
there for a few hours, because her skin was wrinkled, not just her fingers and
toes. Her arms hung limply out of the bathtub, and just out of reach of her
fingers was a bottle of pills.
Sauvage picked it up. They were hers--downers. She had been taking them because
it helped her calm down after work. It helped her forget. The bottle was empty.
Jayla had taken all of them.
How many had there been? Sauvage wondered. She couldnt remember. She felt
along Jayla's hands for some sign of life.
Sauvage screamed as she pulled Jayla's body from the tub, tears flowing from
her eyes with no impediment at all now. She held Jayla close to her, trying to
will her back to life.
But no matter how hard she cried, it never happened.
So she screamed.
Kienan walked into Gao's house with no illusions about what was going to
happen. He had traded his white suit of the night previous for his work
clothes--a black bodysuit covered by a red vest, red gloves, black boots, and
blue pants. His twin custom machine pistols were holstered around his waist,
safeties off. He brushed his bangs from his eyes.
The house was quiet, which in itself was a shock. Kienan kept his senses sharp.
Whoever was waiting for him had set this up awhile before. They could have any
number of surprises waiting for him.
Kienan made his way up the staircase. He heard something above him, the
squeaking of floorboards. He looked up above him.
Sauvage leapt over the railing and fell on him, pushing him back down the
stairs. Kienan grimaced as he tumbled down the stairs, trying to keep his body
loose so he didn't break anything. As his shoulders hit the floor, he drove his
knees into Sauvage's stomach and threw her off of him. Sauvage hit the wall and
rolled to her feet, a bit unsteady. Kienan snapped back up to his feet, drawing
his pistols and firing on her.
Sauvage leapt down, taking her whip off of her hip as he fired. Chunks of walls
exploded as the gunfire sawed through them. She slid along the dirty floor of
the whorehouse, snapping the whip at his hands. The whip wrapped around
Kienan's left wrist, and she leaned backwards, trying to keep him off-balance
long enough to keep her from taking a shot at her.
Kienan struggled against the whip. Despite being stronger than she was, she had
the advantage in leverage right now, and fighting against it wasn't going to
Instead, Kienan threw his body against the taut whip, and rebounded off of it,
giving him momentum enough to drive his fist into Sauvage's face. She dropped
the whip almost immediately and fell back against the wall, on her feet, but
totally dazed. She put a hand to her face and tasted the hot coppery smell of
That was all the time Kienan needed to get his guns again. In the blink of an
eye they were pointed at her.
"I'm only asking this once," he said coldly. "Where are
"You dont need me to tell you that," Sauvage said, whipping out her
own pistol. Kienan shot struck the wall next to her head and left a hole as
large as her head. Her own shot struck the banister of the staircase and blew
Kienan brought both guns to bear and destroyed the rest of the staircase, the
hail of bullets finally tagging Sauvage in her knee and her right arm. She
tried to hang on to her pistol, but the pain was too great and her hands were
now slick with blood. She slid down the wall, her ruined knee unable to support
"Now," Kienan said, keeping his guns on her. Sauvage tried to reach
for her whip, but Kienan kicked it away as he stepped over her, leaving his
foot on her pistol. "Where?"
"Where do you think?" Sauvage screamed, with a fury borne of her pain
and from the fear of this man. "In her room! Where you left her to rot!
Where I found her and tried to save her goddam life! I loved her, did you know
"So did I," Kienan said.
"Not enough to keep her from sinking into this shit," Sauvage said.
"I tried to save her. But all she ever talked about was you. I thought she
loved me, but when I opened that god damned box, I knew that I was never in her
heart at all. You were."
Sauvage looked at him ruefully. "You've won again," she said.
"I'd hoped maybe if I sent you to hell her spirit could rest and I'd find
her and she could love me . . .but you've fucked that up as surely as you
fucked up her life."
Kienan's green eyes narrowed on her as he holstered one of the pistols and
picked up hers. He checked the number of bullets inside the clip. Then he
turned and fired four shots into the far wall. He checked again.
Kienan handed the gun back to her. "Go to her," he said. "Be
Sauvage started crying as Kienan made his way up the stairs. Sauvage pointed
the gun at the back of his head as he made his way up the stair. Kienan stopped
and put his right hand on his gun.
"You can send me to hell if you want," Kienan said. "But living
is enough punishment for my sins. What will you gain? Jayla will still be dead,
and neither of us will be any happier."
Sauvage lowered the gun, laying her hands in her lap. Kienan walked the rest of
the way up the stairs. Gradually, she brought the gun underneath her chin. It
was harder and less natural with her left hand, but the right hand was too
slick with blood and it hurt too damn bad besides.
She leaned back against the wall and thought of Jayla. She thought of the first
time that she had seen her smile, of the first time they had made love, of the
first time she had lain close to her.
Then she pulled the trigger.
Kienan opened the small ebony box, not flinching a bit when he heard the
gunshot. He had meant what he said, to a point. Jayla was dead, as they had
both known her. And living without her and seeing what she had become was the
stuff of nightmares for Kienan.
But, he hoped, having something of hers would make a difference, would help to
put the painful memories in some kind of order, so he could get on with it.
He opened the box. The naked bulb overhead cast long shadows over everything.
He reached his red-gloved fingers inside and lifted it out.
Torn to shreds. Every single picture had been shredded with almost methodical
Kienan would have laughed at the irony any other time. But not it just seemed
cruel, painful and oddly just. Sauvage had gotten her revenge. She was with
Jayla beyond the veil, and Kienan was left alone. The memories of past love
existing for him only in the memories on the ragged edges of torn photographs.